Three years ago this month, I partook of Dry January (do you partake in abstinence? Enlist? Maybe endure would be a better word). The very idea of it has always been anathema to me. January is the barest, bleakest, most bankrupt of months; if ever there was a need for a snifter of something to lift the spirits, surely January was it? In truth, I was pregnant but hadn’t yet told people, and so Dry January was my social cloak of invisibility. Any Irish person concealing a pregnancy will know the feeling; there are only so many hangovers and courses of antibiotics that can be fabricated before people begin directing the speculation at your belly. But January is probably the easiest month to get away with unusual or out-of-character behavior. Festive (sometimes forced) merriment behind us, it’s time for another kind of obligation – to do something new, choose a different path, make a promise to yourself to look better, be stronger, work harder, earn more, eat less, fall in love; God but the demands of January are exhausting.
We do it instinctively from a young age, it’s human nature to want to start something new on the right foot, be it a new school, a new job or a new relationship. Unlike most other significant life events, the best thing about a new year, is that we get a brand new shot at it every twelve months. But the irony of the “new year, new you” adage is that, usually, the best version of a new you, is actually the old you (bear with me here). There are elemental, inalienable things about each of us that can’t be changed, irrespective of what self-help books you buy or inspirational quotes you post to Instagram. If you are the Queen of the New Year Resolution every January, then prepare to become the Duchess of Self Loathing by February, unless you fundamentally rethink your goals. We tend to think of self-improvement as adding something to our lives, rather than what it often is; taking something away. Consider the most ubiquitous resolutions: want to lose weight? Chances are, your goal is a weight you once were. Planning on ditching the cigarettes? You want to revert to a time when you didn’t smoke. Hoping to eat a little healthier? You probably mean cutting out all the rubbish you have inadvertently incorporated into your diet over the weeks, months and years due to various demands of a busy life. Hoping to be more positive? Essentially, you want to approach life like you did when you were ten years old. Bad habits are the potholes of life, and it’s virtually impossible not to fall into at least some of them.
Self-improvement is more often than not, a case of self-decongesting, like polishing the tarnish from a silver frame and marveling at how shiny it is underneath. As we get older, it isn’t the passing of time that bothers us so much as the ebbing of potential that every year signals. Who says this has to be the case? Admittedly, childhood fantasies of becoming a professional footballer or actor might be off the table, and this time next year, you probably still won’t be a millionaire, but hope, ambition, purpose and dreams aren’t just for the young; (indeed, like youth itself, they’re probably wasted on them). But sometimes you need to think like the younger you to make the most of your current self. We must empty the mental load, ditch the detritus of virtual stumbling blocks that life may have put in our way, and then we might find the things we’d like to change are easier than we first thought.
As it turns out, this January, I will be starting something new – dancing. It’s not part of any attempt to better myself, but just so happens to be an opportunity that came my way during resolution season. I am excited and terrified in equal measure, and I know the only way to give it my best shot, is to try and cast off all the inhibitions, hang ups and self-consciousness I have built up over the years (the cellulite I can do nothing about for now), and be more like the person I was a long time ago who took chances - the new me needs to be much more like the old me I had long forgotten.
Wish me luck. And in case you hadn’t twigged yet, this has all just been an unnecessarily loquacious way of saying that I won’t be doing Dry January this year.
Originally published in Image Magazine, January 2018